John Monteith

Toronto

John Monteith: Memorial Day (2012, installation view): Left: Sugak Tea House, Pyongyang-Kaesong Motorway, June 3, 2012 10.34am; pigment print. Right: (de)Construction (re)Construction #4; oil on layered drafting film. All images courtesy the artist and O'Born Contemporary, Toronto.John Monteith: Memorial Day (2012, installation view): Left: Sugak Tea House, Pyongyang-Kaesong Motorway, June 3, 2012 10.34am; pigment print. Right: (de)Construction (re)Construction #4; oil on layered drafting film. All images courtesy the artist and O'Born Contemporary, Toronto.

By Bill Clarke

John Monteith
O'Born Contemporary
September 7 – October 6, 2012

Brooklyn-based Canadian John Monteith's latest exhibition presented two refined bodies of work – one suite of paintings and the other photographs. Although Monteith started out primarily as a figurative painter, an interest in space, light and duration always seemed to inform his work and, in this exhibition, titled Memorial Day, these elements come to the fore with lovely results.

John Monteith: Platz der Luftbrücke, Berlin, October 20 2011 4.22pm (2011): Pigment print.John Monteith: Platz der Luftbrücke, Berlin, October 20 2011 4.22pm (2011): Pigment print.The first series, "(de)Construction, (re)Construction" (2012) is comprised of eight paintings in oil on layered drafting film. The works are prismatic, rendered in varying shades of blue, brown, grey, pink and olive. With their gently angular, layered forms, they are like airy Supremativist paintings or softer versions of the work of painters Elizabeth McIntosh or Tauba Auerbach. The works seem to glow coolly from someplace deep within, and would have felt as if they were floating, light as air, had they been displayed on the walls rather than on three-footed stands in the middle of the gallery. Unfortunately, the gallery didn't really have the space to properly display the two bodies of work together. One felt a bit preoccupied with making sure they didn't bump into one of the works on the stands when stepping back to take in the photographs. And, although the two series are tenuously linked in their approaches to capturing light and space, it felt as if they could have been appreciated just as well in two separate exhibitions.

The second component of the show consisted of a suite of nine large photographs taken in empty, liminal architectural spaces in Berlin, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi  – all cities with fraught histories with which they are still grappling. Although the photographs appear to be in soft focus, they are actually built from several images taken by the artist's static camera over the course of several minutes, the fuzziness caused by the small changes in the shadow and light levels that occurred. The weight of history and time's passage informs these images, especially in Platz der Luftbrücke, Berlin, October 20 2011 4.22pm, with its stilled clock hanging from the ceiling, and 25 Tong Dan, Hanoi, April 17 2011 1.37pm (both 2011), with what appears to be a Soviet-era propaganda mural taking up part of one wall.

It is obvious from these works that Monteith is stepping up his game. Both the paintings and the photographs are visually stimulating, reverie-inducing and demonstrate a new level of sophistication in the artist's handling of materials and themes.